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‘It was crazy, crazy cool to see!’ Alaskans get glimpse of meteor

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Joe Waggoner/Facebook screenshot
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Anchorage resident Joe Waggoner captured several seconds of the meteor flaring brightly just before it disintegrated early Wednesday morning.

Meteor likely part of Ursid meteor shower, UAF professor says; more may be visible tonight and Friday

Numerous Alaskans saw a meteor streak across the sky Wednesday morning, and chances are good they could see more tonight. But some, like Jennifer Smith, are still marveling at getting a glimpse of the meteor on Wednesday.

Smith said she wasn’t scanning the sky for astronomical phenomena. Instead, it all started when she got up early that day, because of course her dogs were bugging her.

Anchorage Winter Solstice Meteor

“I let the dogs out the back, and it was pitch dark, and I stepped out onto the deck,” she said, “and all of a sudden, a huge neon-green ball was dropping southwest straight down. Looked like a hundred yards from my house.”

Smith, who lives in Delta Junction, said in an interview Thursday that she happened to look up in the right direction at the right time just long enough to witness the celestial fireworks.

“It had a bright red and orange streaked tail behind it,” she said, “and then, within three seconds, it had fallen and disappeared.”

Another Alaskan, Joe Waggoner, also got up around 5:30 a.m., and as part of his morning routine, he checked his social-media accounts and found several posts from Alaskans who also had seen the meteor.

“I saw their posts online and saw the time stamp on somebody else’s video and thought, ‘Well, what the heck, I’ll look and see if I’ve got anything on my cameras,’ And there it was.”

Waggoner, an Anchorage resident, said Thursday that his security cameras have never captured video of anything like that. Mainly, he said, it’s mundane stuff, like urban wildlife: “Nope, no meteors. Just moose.”

Mark Conde, of Fairbanks, says he also missed seeing the meteor, and he also learned about it from several video clips posted to social media.

“When I looked at the footage I saw of it,” he said, “it was a pretty bright, y’know, fireball.”

Conde is a physics professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and he teaches astronomy classes. And he says there’s nothing unusual about meteors burning up upon entry into the atmosphere.

“The Earth is hit all the time by small particles from space,” he said. “Most of them are the size of dust grains.”

But he says this likely was bigger than that, based on the bright light it generated as it disintegrated not long after hitting the atmosphere at nearly 25-thousand miles an hour.

“This thing’s probably the size of a grape, or smaller,” he said Thursday.

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EarthSky.org
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The Ursid meteor shower radiates. or originates from the constellation Ursa Minor -- the Lesser Bear, aka the Little Dipper -- in the north/northeast section of the sky at midnight.

Mike Hankey, with the American Meteor Society, told Alaska Public Media he reckons it was a bit bigger than that.

“I would estimate this like somewhere between a basketball to, like, a grocery cart,” he said.

But even a meteor that size would burn up soon after entering the atmosphere. Still, Conde says seeing even a small one streak across the sky and disintegrate usually leaves a lasting impression.

“They’re sufficiently rare that individuals don’t tend to see them very often,” he said. “When you do see one, it’s a spectacular treat.”

Smith, the early-riser in Delta, would agree.

“It was just crazy, crazy cool to see,” she said. “I mean, it was just jaw-dropping, shocking to see it. And you’re like ‘What in the world was that?!’ ”

Conde says Alaskans will have more opportunities to see meteors over the next day or two, weather permitting. That’s because the one that briefly appeared Wednesday is likely part of the annual Ursid meteor shower that people in the northern hemisphere usually see around the solstice. According to EarthSky.org, this year’s Ursid meteor activity likely will peak tonight and Friday, before dawn.

So if your dogs are making a fuss at around that time, it might be a good time to get up and let ‘em out -- and scan the skies for shooting stars.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.